Hansen's Northwest Native Plant Database

Blechnum spicant (Deer Fern or Hard Fern)



 Plantae – Plants


 Tracheobionta – Vascular plants


 Pteridophyta – Ferns






 Blechnaceae – Chain Fern family


 Blechnum L. – midsorus fern


 Blechnum spicant (L.) Sm. – deer fern

Photo, left, credit:  Boris Gaberšček 

A fine evergreen native fern, reaching heights of only 12-24."

The low-growing sterile fronds spread horizontally from a basal tuft, while the fertile fronds are thin and deciduous and grow erect, directly from the center of the clump. The specimen at lower right growing in a private garden in Oregon's Willamette Valley is a fine mature example of this growth habit.

A fine native fern, it is found from Alaska to California and inland to Idaho, USDA zones 4-8. It likes moist, acidic soil.

The young leaves of this fern were chewed by Hesquiat hunters and travelers as a hunger suppressant. 

The common name may reflect the fact that this plant is an important browse for deer and elk. It may also be traced to a Native belief that Deer Fern has medicinal properties, knowledge gleaned from observing deer rub their heads against the plant after they lose their antlers.

Photo, center, credit:  Daderot, Regional Parks Botanic Garden, Berkeley, CA


Photo, left, a  juvenile plant. Credit:  Krzysztof Ziarnek; Photo, center, half grown specimen. Credit:  Huhulenik; Photo, right, mature plant.

Woodland colonies large and small in their natural wilderness habitats.

Photos from left, credit to :  James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster; remaining three photos credit to: Boris Gaberšček


Young leaf, Photo credit:  Olivier Pichard; Leaf top, Photo credit:  Averater; Old leaf, Photo credit:  Boris Gaberšček


Sterile leaf, Photo credit:  Kurt Stüber; Leaf bottom, Photo credit:  Averater; Fertile leaf with sori, a cluster of sporangia

(structures producing and containing spores) in ferns and fungi, Photo credit:  James Lindsey at Ecology of Commanster


Photo, left, credit:  Hans Hillewaert; Photo, center, credit:  Tigerente; Photo, right, credit:  Permission granted to use under GFDL by Kurt Stueber

Hard Fern (Blechnum spicant). The northern side of Meikle White Hill was abundant in this species, which produces two kinds of fronds: evergreen sterile ones (which are the most numerous in this photograph), and upright, more sparsely-lobed fertile fronds (resembling fishbones), which die back in winter.

According to "A Natural History of Britain's Ferns" (Christopher N. Page), Hard Fern "is one of the most regularly occurring smaller ferns of heathland communities in all the wetter climates of Britain and Ireland.

Spreading clumps of this fern are generally very widespread amongst Heather in many areas of heathland, but especially so on damp valley sides in upland moorland in wetter western districts" (p284). The fern's presence here is "probably indicative of areas of a lateral and descending movement of fairly acidic groundwater" (p200). The ferns shown here were located on a damp, windswept hillside, a habitat to which they are suited (the work just quoted notes that this fern has a "rather flat, vegetative frond profile which is relatively little disturbed by the wind").

The area is one of acidic heathland and abundant water; note, for example, the stream flowing past the foot of the same hillside: 1019803.

Photo credit:  Lairich Rig http://geograph.org.uk

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